Divine Bodies - Asian Art Museum - 2018.03.11

History of the Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco – Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture houses one of the most comprehensive Asian art collections in the world, with more than 18,000 works of art in its permanent collection, some as much as 6,000 years old.

The museum owes its origin to a donation to the city of San Francisco by Chicago millionaire Avery Brundage, who was a major collector of Asian art. The Society for Asian Art, incorporated in 1958, was the group that formed specifically to gain Avery Brundage's collection. The museum opened in 1966 as a wing of the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park. Brundage continued to make donations to the museum, including the bequest of all his remaining personal collection of Asian art on his death in 1975. In total, Brundage donated more than 7,700 Asian art objects to San Francisco.

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Exhibit Overview:

Bringing historical paintings and sculptures from mainly Hindu and Buddhist traditions together with contemporary photo-based work, Divine Bodies invites you to ponder the power of transformation, the possibility of transcendence and the relationship of the body to the cosmos. The exhibition is organized into thematic sections that encourage us to look at objects not only as artworks but also as devotional images and ask, “How can we see the human in the divine and the divine in the human?”

The first section, Transience and Transcendence, reveals the implicit connection between time and eternity. Over 100 interviewees in David and Hi-Jin Hodge’s video work Impermanence reflect on how human lives, although transitory, can have meaning. Hauntingly beautiful photographs by artist Gauri Gill of ephemeral graves in the desert, as well as a Tibetan thangka that captures both the decease of the historical Buddha and his attainment of immortality, also speak to life and its eventual end.

Embodying the Sacred considers the body as a powerful form of communication, presenting a provocative juxtaposition of sculptural portraits of the Buddha from China, Indonesia, India, Thailand and Pakistan. A sensual bronze Shiva from Tamil Nadu, a beautiful gilded copper White Tara from Nepal, a stone sculpture of the ferocious Thunderbolt Tara and humorous depictions of the gods in Vivan Sundaram’s series Khajuraho bring to life the exhibition’s third section, The Many Aspects of Divinity. Pamela Singh’s composite photographs taken in urban landscapes also evoke this theme by simultaneously suggesting the presence and absence of the artist.

Divine Metamorphosis, the final section, groups together several distinct bodily forms of a single Hindu or Buddhist deity, suggesting the centrality of transformation to our understanding of the divine. The Hindu god Vishnu is depicted in various forms, from cosmic pillar to wild boar to flute-playing Krishna, while photographs by Dayanita Singh from the series Mona Ahmed document the lived reality of self-transformation in India’s eunuch community.

Ultimately, these diverse images of gods and goddesses, buddhas and bodhisattvas, humans and their landscapes — past and present — lead us to reflect on how to find meaning in an impermanent world.

The Asian Art Museum location is on the lower left of the photo taken from my Apartment on the 28th floor of Fox Plaza!

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  Charles Walter Buntjer

San Francisco California
Created on: 2018.03.11  

Updated on: 2018.03.11